The Trump administration’s tough new sanctions on Iran took effect on Monday but eight major importers of Iranian oil were spared from immediate penalties.
The sanctions target Iran’s energy, financial and shipping sectors and are aimed at crippling the country’s economy following President Donald Trump’s withdrawal from the 2015 nuclear deal. The measures restore all the U.S. sanctions that had been lifted under the accord that gave Iran billions of dollars in sanctions relief in exchange for curbs on its nuclear programme.
The sanctions freeze any assets that those targeted have in U.S. jurisdictions and bar Americans from doing business with them. They will also affect non-Iranian companies that deal with sanctioned Iranian firms and officials.
President Trump says that he wants to get Iran back to the negotiating table on the nuclear issue. The Trump administration also says it wants to stop what it calls Tehran’s “malign” activities including cyber attacks, ballistic missile tests, and support for terror groups in the Middle East.
Rare temporary exemptions
India and China — the two biggest buyers of Iranian crude, have so far appeared to have skipped the punitive American sanctions targeting the Iranian oil and financial sectors.
The two Asian giants are believed to be among the eight countries that have been given the rare temporary exemptions from the Iranian sanctions that kicked off on Monday.
The Trump administration said it has asked these countries, including Turkey, Greece, Italy, Japan and South Korea, to bring down their oil purchase to zero as soon as possible.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the waivers, which expire in six months, were necessary to avoid disruption of world oil markets and to give the eight countries more time to eliminate their imports. During those six months, the importing country can buy Iranian oil but must deposit Iran’s revenue in an escrow account. Iran can spend the money but only on a narrow range of humanitarian items.
Seeking to deflect criticism from some Iran hawks concerned that the sanctions don’t go far enough, Mr. Pompeo stressed that U.S. pressure on countries to stop buying Iranian oil had already reduced its exports by more than a million barrels of crude per day.
“Rest assured, Iran will never get close to obtaining a nuclear weapon under President Trump’s watch,” he said.
Mr. Pompeo also said limited waivers had been issued to allow European and other firms to continue conversion work on two of Iran’s nuclear facilities.
'Toughest ever' on Tehran
India, which is the second biggest purchaser of Iranian oil after China, is willing to restrict its monthly purchase to 1.25 million tonnes or 15 million tonnes in a year (300,000 barrels per day), down from 22.6 million tonnes (452,000 barrels per day) bought in 2017-18 financial year, sources in New Delhi had said last week.
The reimposition of U.S. sanctions on Iran, Mr. Pompeo asserted are “the toughest ever” on Tehran.
They’re aimed at a singular purpose, denying the world’s largest state sponsor of terrorists the capacity to do things like they did this past couple weeks, attempted assassination campaign in the heart of Europe, he said.
"These sanctions have already had an enormous impact. We’ve already reduced Iranian crude oil experts by over a million barrels per day. That number will fall farther. There’s a handful of places were countries that have already made significant reductions in their crude oil exports need a little bit more time to get to zero, and we’re going to provide that to them," he said.
'We’ll see what happens with Iran'
Trump told reporters on Sunday that the sanctions are the strongest ever imposed by the U.S.
“The Iran sanctions are very strong. They’re the strongest sanctions we’ve ever imposed. We’ll see what happens with Iran, but they’re not doing very well, I can tell you,” Mr. Trump told reporters at the White House. The President did not respond to a question about the waiver.
At an election rally on Sunday, Mr. Trump said the Iranian regime now just want to survive.
“I withdrew the United States from the horrible, one-sided Iran nuclear catastrophe. And Iran is a much different right now than it was before I took office,” Trump said at an election rally in Chattanooga in Tennessee.
“They were doing bad things, and they are doing bad things now, but they don’t have the same perspective. They were looking for the Mediterranean... They wanted to take over the whole Middle East. Right now, they just want to survive,” Mr. Trump said.
In May, President Trump had pulled U.S. out of the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) terming it as disastrous. Under the Obama-era deal, involving five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council and Germany, Iran agreed to stop its nuclear programme in exchange for relief from economic sanctions.
President Hassan Rouhani on Monday said Iran “will proudly bypass sanctions” by the U.S.
“We are in a situation of economic war, confronting a bullying power. I don’t think that in the history of America, someone has entered the White House who is so against law and international conventions,” he added.